Future of Fan Fair in question

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Sparse attendance triggers cancellation of event designed to help race fans discover Owen County

By Molly Haines

Thousands of NASCAR fans descended on Kentucky Speedway June 26-28, about 15 miles from downtown Owenton.
But for the most part in Owen County, it was just another weekend.
From 2011-2013, the Owen County Visioneers hosted Fan Fair in hopes of drawing race fans to Owen County to boost the county’s tourism.
Over the past three years, the event included a wide array of vendors and food, activities for children, a barn dance, a day focused on agriculture in Kentucky, a Miss Golden Triangle Pageant and a duck and goose-calling contest hosted by Tim Farmer of KET’s Kentucky Afield.
This year’s race weekend went by with little push for fans of NASCAR to spend time in Owen County.
Shanna Osborne, an organizer of past Fan Fair events and Elk Creek Vineyards general manager, said Fan Fair ended up being a “recreation of Sweet Owen Day.”
“Race fans didn’t come to Fan Fair,” Osborne said. “We were receiving local support only and that’s why the committee decided to just support Sweet Owen Day this year.”
Owen County Visioneer Holly Bowling said a lack of volunteers also hurt this year’s chances of a Fan Fair.
“(Race fans) are just traveling through,” Bowling said. “The race is pretty much a destination point -- we just felt like it was a lot of work for no one to stop.”
Owen County Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Dave Jones disagreed and said Fan Fair was always a success, especially in 2013.
“In the previous years, there were maps out there and we had several people stopping from various states, some from Canada and places in the northeast part of the nation,” Jones said. “I think Fan Fair was successful in getting people to stop or to come in from the campgrounds. Whether it was a sufficient amount of people or not, I don’t know.”
Osborne said approximately 12 people attending the races stopped by the Elk Creek Winery, the largest winery in the state of Kentucky.  
“On a normal weekend, we have 350 visitors from out of town,” Osborne said. “Our numbers didn’t change much, we had at least 10 to 12 that came from the Speedway.”
In Carroll County, hundreds of people attended Race Fest in downtown Carrollton which included race cars, a classic car cruise-in, motorcycle show, soap box derby, karaoke and a beer garden.
The event is hosted by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
Organizers of Race Fest have a shuttle at Kentucky Speedway during their one-day event to carry those interested to Carrollton.
Osborne said Fan Fair also had a shuttle during its 2013 event.
“The one thing people would ask our driver was what we had to drink here in Owen County,” Osborne said. “So our shuttle never moved, but Carrollton’s stayed on the road.”
Osborne said she feels that NASCAR fans would be more apt to stop in Owen County if alcohol could be offered.
“In my opinion, unless (race fans) are able to have a drink with their meal or with the band or whatever, I don’t think we’re gonna be successful in getting race fans to Owen County.”
Jones said he visits a dry county in Ohio’s Amish country that brings in 1- to 2 million visitors a year.
“If (Owen County) were a wet county it might improve (Fan Fair attendance) some,” Jones said. “But I think there are a lot of good things here in the county to see and do. I don’t think alcohol is the solution to getting more race fans to attend the events.”
Although Fan Fair was nixed for 2014, Jones said he hopes it will make a comeback in the coming years.
“Holding (Fan Fair) for three years and then doing away with it was the short-term mentality,” Jones said. “I think it should’ve continued. It got a lot of publicity (in 2013). We had news helicopters and news stations, it seemed like a great success to me. … It’s a great opportunity, we just need to be a little more creative and have more tenacity to try to get (race fans) to Owen County.”